March On Arkansas hosted a Families Belong Together March on June 30 in Little Rock to raise awareness toward the unjust treatment of immigrants being detained as a result of President Donald Trump’s Zero Tolerance Policy.
More than 2,000 children have been held in shelters after being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under this policy, according to the Associated Press.
The issue has sparked outcry, debates, agreements and more among the nation’s residents.
March On Arkansas — the official Arkansas Sister March to the Women's March on Washington, organized by Be the Change Alliance — is “committed to dismantling systems of oppression by amplifying the message of groups practicing non-violent resistance,” according to its Facebook page.
Gwen Combs, a representative of the organization, said the community feels strongly that families should be together and do not need detention; that the U.S.’s treatment of refugees is a human rights violation.
She said it started in 2017 with the Women’s March, which began to solidify a network of people who weren’t previously connected and is growing into a community that is willing to “show up for change,” whether that be through writing letters to politician, marching or other.
With marching, Combs said, it gives them a way to make a visual impact, to gain media attention and to raise awareness about the issue.
While some may argue that marching is pointless, she said, it does bring positive awareness toward the issue and while it doesn’t bring change, it does give marchers an opportunity to gather as one and educate those around them about what is happening.
“Family separation without guarantee of unification, indefinite detention of families in prison-like internment camps, and refusing due process to [refugees] seeking asylum are non-partisan, moral issues,” the event page reads. “We demand an end to the zero-tolerance policy. Families belong together in homes - not in jails, prisons, tent cities, or cages. Stand up and be counted at 4:30 pm on Saturday, June 30 to demand that Families Belong Together - and to be treated with dignity!
Combs said at 4:30 p.m. several hundred attendees gathered together and occupied several bridges.
She said they saw encouragement from drivers by way of honking and waving but did receive the occasional middle finger and boo.
Either way, those pieces of positive feedback, Combs said, were encouraging to those impacted by this issue.
“Those people that felt so marginalized get to feel the love of the community around them and that’s important,” she said.
After, they moved to the Arkansas State Capitol to hear from speakers and a vigil was held at 6:30 p.m.
Combs said, total, they saw about 1,200 participants during the event.
Conway’s Jordan King was one of those attendees.
He said he felt compelled to march because of what was happening with the detaining of refugees, which left him unsettled.
“We really wanted to take a stand against that,” King said.
He said it’s important to march in solidarity with others for those who can’t.
When asked why he chose to attend, King said, ultimately, he’s be more surprised to hear why people wouldn’t; that if someone cares about kids, they should that they were kept in cages.
“That’s quite literally what was going on,” he said.
King said the movement to dehumanize the refugees and immigrants fleeing to the U.S. … people might have several different reasons to feel that is valid, but at the end of the day, people are fearful of what they do not understand.
He said the U.S. has always been known as a place people can come who are seeking asylum and help but when people are scared, fearful and do not understand it can take a negative turn and end with policies like the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance policy.
Regarding the arguments out there that speak on illegality, King said it’s easy for someone who gets to go home to their own house and family to argue that.
These families fleeing to the U.S., he said, are leaving something that is incredibly dangerous, something he feels our nation’s residents have a hard time grasping.
“It’s not like it’s a walk in the park,” King said.
While he said the U.S.’s immigration policy isn’t perfect, “no one deserves to be in a cage.”
“That’s like saying we’re going to fight an injustice with an injustice and that’s not what America is about,” King said.
He said “powerful” was the best word to describe the march, represented by people from all races, demographics, sexes, gender and more, which showed, clearly, that it’s not just one type of person who cares about this issue.
King said it’s important for people to stand up and be seen for those who can’t … to assemble and who that injustices like that don’t go unseen.
Gary Roberts, of Conway, and his wife, Diana, also attended the event because they were concerned about the direction of the country.
“The Trump administration does not represent our American values,” he told the LCD in a Facebook message.
He said the U.S. is built on immigrants and we should be embracing diversity.
“These are families fleeing poverty and violence, seeking a better life; like our ancestors did centuries ago,” Roberts said. “I agree we need to vet individuals coming into our country, and we need some assurance they show for their hearings. But they should not be placed in jail, especially when children are involved.”
He said there are alternatives to incarceration, like electronic monitoring, a much less expensive option.
“We need to adjust our policies to allow more immigrants into our country, especially from our southern border,” Roberts said. “I have learned over the years that our Hispanic and Latino friends have a tremendous work ethic, are family[-] oriented, are intelligent, and have a deep religious faith.
"We need immigrants to fill [U.S.] jobs, pay taxes and help pay down the national debt. We can seek a balance in protecting our [U.S] interests while treating people with dignity and respect [and] that is largely why we marched - to treat all people with dignity and respect.”